Listening to My Whiskers Grow

Shhhh ... ssshhhhh ... listen carefully ... you can almost hear ... well, start reading and you'll find out.

Last month I wore a pink belt.  Twelve times.

No, I was not having some sort of 1980’s fashion flashback and channeling my inner Crockett & Tubbs.  Colorblindness, like a thief in the night, did not steal my ability to dress myself in the morning*.   Nor was I experimenting with clothing from my wife’s side of the closet.

*My wife would tell you that ability never existed.

October, as you might recall, was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and folks from all over did all sorts of things in order to raise awareness and raise funds to help fight this disease.  Good stuff, right?

Well, as it happened, I have been taking karate for a little over a year now in an attempt to get back into shape, increase my flexibility and … y’know … hit things.  So, at our dojo, in October, we all had the opportunity to, among other things, purchase pink belts and then, for the month of October, instead of wearing the belt of our respective ranks, we all wore pink belts.  Our dojo raised over $1,000 which was then donated to the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock about an hour south of here.

Was it a gigantic get-a-wing-named-after-you type of contribution?  Of course not.  But, it was something.  And lots of other folks did all their little somethings and all those little somethings added up to millions and millions of dollars raised that were donated to a number of legitimate research organizations in your neck of the woods and mine.

This is an important point – there is a cumulative nature to all our individual efforts.  And, in the midst of the so-called Great Recession the need for our cumulative efforts is great – and it is not just limited to cancer research.  We are headed into the holiday season … and winter.  There are folks out there who are in need.  Serious not-enough-food-in-the-cupboard, not-enough-fuel-for heat need.

At this point you might be asking, “Tim, what’s your point?  And, further, what does this have to do with you whiskers?”

As always, Gentle Reader, I am glad you asked!

I have two points:

The first is this:  I know things are tough right now for a lot of businesses out there and things are tough for even the people who do have steady, gainful employment.  But, remember, as tough as it might be for you there’s probably someone out there who would gladly trade places with your version of tough.

The second is this:  Do something.  Anything. Donate something to some worthy cause.  Money?  Sure, great – do that – all kinds of worthy organizations need financial support.  Food?  Yes!  Call your local food bank.  They need your help.  Even if all you can donate is one jar of peanut butter, do it.  Remember, it’s not just you donating something – it’s all of us donating something.  Time?  Oh, here’s the big one – time.  We’re all short on time.  It’s okay.  Find an hour somewhere.  Volunteer.  You’re good people. The world needs good people.

I will probably have more to say on this in later posts.  And, yes, you are correct, this post has almost nothing to do with direct marketing.

And, finally, my whiskers:  If you poke around this site you’ll note that I am usually a whiskered guy.  More-or-less have been since I was fifteen or so.

As you might have noticed up at the top of the page, I am currently (temporarily) not whiskered.  That’s right – I shaved on November 2nd.  So I could grow a new mustache.

Raising awareness for men’s health (and prostate cancer, specifically) has never been easier for you.  This month turned into Movember:

During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men.

See?  Wasn’t that easy?  Now you are even more aware.  And, all you have to do is listen to my whiskers grow.  Well, that, and, if you are so moved, make a donation at my Movember page.  Go ahead!  Click the link.  Learn some more.  Donate.

Remember, we are good people and we all work hard, but, we can always help somehow.  Somewhere.  Some way.

How do you give?  Let us know below!

Posted in Fundraising | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Of Jelly Donuts and Junk Mail

Did one of our Presidents claim he was a jelly donut? Of course not! Is targeted direct mail advertising junk? Of course not!

The story goes that when John Kennedy made his famous speech in Berlin back in 1963 he made a grammatical error – a Cold War show of solidarity turned confectionery.  Most of us are familiar with the speech, either through memory or memory of a high school history class, and its most dramatic moment:

“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum ['I am a Roman citizen']. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ …  All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’”

Over time some have suggested JFK should have said “Ich Bin Berliner!” (“I am a Berliner” – which would have been correct had Kennedy actually been from Berlin instead of Boston.)  The other bit of confusion arises from the name of a particular jelly-filled pastry known in Germany (but outside of Berlin) as a Berliner.

However, since Kennedy was speaking metaphorically … well … he really meant … well … he didn’t say he was a jelly donut, okay?

Anyway, as is sometimes the case the legend is far more entertaining than the reality and this one has gained some legs over the years.  All you have to do is Google “JFK jelly donut” and you get about 858,000 results.  I am willing to bet a college student could write a reasonably interesting and entertaining paper on exactly why we as a culture would have so much fun with this.

But, I didn’t come here today to write about jelly donuts.  I came to write about junk mail.  Or, better still, I came to write about the fiction that is junk mail and the genesis of direct mail advertising’s much maligned name.  You want an urban legend with legs?  Google “junk mail” – that’s 73,500,000 results.  (I’ll spare you the search:  “junk mail jelly donuts” gets you 895,000 results.  I’d imagine that would also make for an interesting college paper – but, since college ended over 20 years ago for me I’m off the hook.)

Here at the Completely Interesting Direct Marketing Blog we have discussed at length direct marketing and direct mail’s general awesomeness.  So let us begin with this in mind:  Direct mail remains the most cost-effective means of reaching your targeted audience. Period.  It is fact.

However, because direct marketing and direct mail are by their very nature targeted messages for a specific product or service sent to a specific (targeted!!!) audience, the idea of “direct mail” doesn’t have a means by which it can manage its message.  Think about how other media can promote itself:

  • Radio can talk about radio on the radio. (Seriously – have you ever listened to a Howard Stern show?  Back when I listened to him in the 90s, Howard spent the first 25 minutes of his show talking about … Howard!)
  • Television can devote all kinds of time to talking about television.  (30 Rock, anyone?)  The evening news shows will devote whole segments to how the evening news covers … the evening news!
  • Newspapers can run front-page stories about how they cover the news.

Make no mistake about it – radio, television, and newspapers may sound and look like they are in the business of entertaining or informing the general public, but, that’s really a myth, too.

Radio and television and newspapers are in the business of getting people to listen to or look at the messages from their paid sponsors.  Right?  These things exist to get people to watch commercials. The music and the shows and the news and the comics and the sports pages are all there with one thing in mind – attract eyeballs to the ads.  The more eyeballs seeing the ads mean more advertising revenue which means more profits.

Allow me to step sideways for a moment. I am a capitalist.  I love profit.  I am not saying radio, television, and newspapers are bad entities for wanting to make a profit.  Profit good.  Profit pays the bills.  Profit employs people.  Profit makes it work.  I’m all for it.  And I’ll go a step further – I read newspapers and magazines and occasionally watch television, but, I’ll bet most of you are just like me in that you are putting up with the commercials and ads in order to enjoy the content (the music, the shows, the news, whatever).  No one tunes in at 8:00 every night to watch the commercials. Yet, “junk commercials” is not part of our national vernacular.

Consider this:  Each of these media outlets is competing with other outlets for limited advertising dollars (if you’ll recall from Accounting 101, the concept of opportunity cost is a dollar spent in one manner is a dollar you can’t spend somewhere else).

So newspapers are competing with other newspapers and radio and TV and any other manner of paid advertising for business.  It’s the same for all the other types, too.  Makes sense, right?  Of course it does.

Direct mail falls into this mix. Direct mail competes with radio, television, newspapers, and magazines for the dollars of advertisers.

Now, no business in its right mind is going to send out a direct mail piece bashing newspaper advertising, for instance, because, well, that’d just be foolish.  A business will send out a direct mail piece advertising … itself!  That’s just smart!

But, here is where things get devious. The other media outlets can spend a little time here-and-there bashing direct mail.  Newspapers, in particular, spilled a lot of ink back in the 1950s as they faced a two-pronged attack with both the dawn of commercial television as a viable means of local advertising as well as the advent of simplified bulk mail rules.

In the course of ten years – between 1947 and 1957 – spending on direct mail increased almost 2.5 times and newspapers saw this (probably rightly so) as a threat to their bottom line.  So what did newspapers do?

Let’s turn to Richard Kielbowicz’s paper entitled Origins of the Junk-Mail Controversy: A
Media Battle over Advertising and Postal Policy
.  Page 8 explains exactly what the newspapers did:

“Newspapers retaliated by attacking direct mail’s value in print and before postal ratemakers, wielding the term “junk mail” regularly for the first time. In their campaign to scuttle the patron~mail experiment, newspapers devised several arguments that were later generalized for a continuing assault on all direct mail advertising. Some points made by the press were false, others were misleading, and all were expressed publicly without informing readers that newspapers stood to gain financially from a diminished direct mail industry.”

In technical terms, this was a total hack job and the hack job has continued unabated for over fifty years.  You don’t have to go back that far, either.

Back in 2003, the DMA was welcomed to Orlando for its annual conference with this headline from the Orlando Sentinel:  Spammers, Telemarketers Share Strategies.  It should go without saying (but, I will say it anyway) spamming has no part in the mission of the DMA and its members.

Also lost on the *ahem* reporter of this piece was the fact that the Orlando Sentinel at that time used telemarketing in order to build it’s subscriber base.  But, again, the fiction remains more entertaining than the reality.

We as direct marketers simply cannot take the myths spread by our self-promoting competitors seriously.  We have to remember we bring value to our customers and we help our customers bring value to their customers.  Junk mail is a myth. Businesses promoting themselves to create profit – profit that can then be turned into jobs and a healthy economy – that is the reality.

So, my fellow marketers, today, in the world of advertising, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Direct Marketer!”  All marketers, wherever they may live, need to be a Direct Marketer, and, therefore, as a business man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Direct Marketer!

Posted in direct mail | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Moneyball and Database Marketing: The Secret

Former prospect, current General Manager or Rosarch Test image? Depends on who is looking.

Okay, so, I was going to do a blog post on jelly donuts and junk mail, but, in the mean time, a colleague forwarded me a link to an article by Jim Wheaton titled, How Database Marketing Can Turn Companies Around, and asked me if I have ever read (or seen the new movie starring that hunky Brad Pitt) Moneyball.

Really, the correct question was not had I read Moneyball.  A correct question would have been something along the lines of had I ever spent 45 minutes defending the premise of Moneyball.  And had I had that 45 minute argument multiple times.  The answer, as you might gather is, of course I had!

But, that’s not what I answered.  Instead I replied to her – before I looked at the article: “I have, and I wonder if whoever wrote this article made the correct conclusions about Moneyball.”

Among many baseball fans the subject of Moneyball is like some weird combination of religion and politics.  Friends should not discuss these topics, but, when they do, expect fireworks, because, even though everyone read or saw the same thing, there is a high likelihood they have interpreted it differently.  Billy Beane has become baseball’s Rosarch Test.

Fear not, Gentle Reader, as I will now help you along to a correct interpretation of both premise of the book and the above mentioned article about it.  You’re welcome!

The author states:

“Moneyball,” the current hit movie based on Michael Lewis’ 2003 book by the same name, is a story that has two important lessons for direct and database marketers.

First, there is big money to be made by those whose decision making is informed by the best data and most sophisticated analysis of that data.

Second, in order to stay ahead of the competition, you need to keep improving the quality of the data that you are analyzing, and the sophistication of the analysis itself.

So far, so good.  The writer continues to describe how the plucky, underdog, small-market A’s stayed ultra-competitive with larger market teams – and then goes on to tell us how they found their way – through the power of data.  And that is where things go awry.

The secret, as put into practice by general manager Billy Beane, is to hire a data miner and put him to work crunching the numbers. Billy collaborates closely with the data miner and, in fact, confers with his quantitative expert every time a decision has to be made.

NO!  The secret of Moneyball – and it’s no secret at all because both Beane and Michael Lewis say as much more than a few times in the book – is the A’s used the data in order to find inefficiencies in the market.  They looked for statistics that had a high correlation to success (in Beane’s case, his late 1990s/early 2000s teams already had great pitching – he needed to generate runs – so, in this case, he was looking for statistics that had a high correlation to scoring runs) that were undervalued by the market.

At the time, batting average, home runs, and runs-batted-in were stats that were highly (and sometimes over-) valued.  He found (again, at that time) that on-base percentage was undervalued in the market – in other words, he could get a guy who had a higher than average OBP (and some power), but who had a low batting average, cheaper than he could get a guy who had a high batting average – and, the numbers bore out (but, I will not bore you out with the numbers) this argument as those A’s teams scored a lot of runs.  Great stuff.

And then other teams caught on and soon everyone was talking about OBP and all that – and next thing you know, that particular statistic was no longer undervalued – so there was no competitive advantage to seeking high OBP guys because they were likely as pricey as the old high BA/HR/RBI guys.  By the late 2000s the new inefficiency (tapped into by Tampa Bay – as another little guy on the block attempting to compete with the big boys) was run prevention.

So, it would drive me crazy when talking about Moneyball with baseball guys and they would sum it up by saying “Oh, you think everybody needs big, slow guys who get on base and hit home runs.”  No.  No and NOOOO!!!  You need general managers and front office executives who know how to find market inefficiencies. (And I’ll stop there with the baseball.)

Now, about the rest of Mr. Wheaton’s article – the questions he poses are all good questions:

Do you have a best-practices marketing database?

Do you have top-notch analytical professionals on staff or on retainer, who work closely with the marketing and creative teams?

If you have top-notch analytical professionals on staff or on retainer, are they “invited to the table” when management discusses important strategic and tactical issues?

Are you always looking for new ways to improve your marketing database?

The trouble here is if you are really looking to go all Moneyball and actually tap into the secret you need not just good marketing data and/or good data analysts – you need to find different ways of looking at the data.

You need to find something in your data that has value that your competitors, given the same /similar data would not recognize as having that same value.  In other words, can you find something within your data that has high value that your competitors undervalue?

Well, can you?!!

[Photo credit: Gem Mint Ten]

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What Did You Expect?!! A Cautionary Tale of Baseball, Email Marketing, and the Supposed Death of Direct Mail.

The 2011 Red Sox were not the 1927 Yankees. E-mail marketing as your sole means of new client acquisition is not effective marketing.

As I promised back in late August, I am due for a full fledged rant on email marketing and here it is.

But, I would like to ask a ginormous favor from you, Awesome Direct Marketer, before we get into this informative, possibly controversial, but always completely interesting blog post – I ask – *sniff* – that you pause for just a moment of silence in remembrance of The Championship Season That Was Not for my Boston Red Sox.

[Insert just a moment of silence here.]

Okay, now that we have that out of the way – let’s talk about managing expectations.  And, let’s begin with … the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  (And, for all you non-sports fans out there, I’ll be brief, I promise!*)

*How brief?  I just edited out 250 words of non-brevity.

At various points of 2011, the expectations for the 2011 Red Sox, according to pundits, were as follows:

  1. Off-season/Spring Training: This team may be the second coming of the 1927 New York Yankees!!!
  2. After they got off to a 2-10 start: This team is going to be lucky to win 80 games.
  3. After they went on an 81-42 tear after the tough start: They may not be second coming of the ’27 Yankees, but they are still going to win 100 games.  (100 wins, for you non-baseball fans is a lot of wins in a season)

The reality ended up being somewhere in the middle – 90 wins, no playoffs and a lot of disappointment.  Reality didn’t match up to any of the expectations.

Now you may be asking, “What might this have to do with email marketing or the supposed death of direct mail?”  Well, I’m glad you asked!

We hear a lot these days about the power of email marketing and, yes, email marketing has a fair amount of potential when used correctly.  Unfortunately, based on a lot of the phone calls I receive there are some particularly unrealistic expectations out there.

It is important to keep in mind we in the list business are in the business of helping you find new customers.  We are all about client acquisition.  Acquisition is tricky business, as you probably already know.  Sure, there are plenty of companies out there who have the benefit of a strong brand, worldwide name recognition, or some ubiquitous product – y’know, those Fortune 500-y types.  Hey, it’s great stuff if you have it.

The thing is, there are something like ten or eleven million businesses out there in the country and only 500 get to be Fortune 500-y, so all the rest – like probably you and definitely me – are not exactly household brands.  So we have to put in some effort to get the word out about our spectacular company and attract new customers.

There are a lot of different ways to reach people these days, and you might get caught up in a surge of digital age excitement and start believing that email marketing is the fastest and most cost effective method to acquire new customers.

I’ll wait for you to come back down to earth … and now we can have a rational, realistic talk about email marketing.

First things first – let’s set some ground rules:

  1. This post is about email marketing as a means of new customer acquisition – not client retention.  Using email is fabulous for client retention – it’s a cost effective method for keeping your company’s products and services at the forefront of your client’s minds on a regular basis.  If you aren’t using email marketing to stay in touch with your current clients, you should probably re-evaluate your marketing priorities.  Right now.
  2. Most people are smart enough to know the Minister of Agriculture from Kerschplakistan has not really sought you out in order to help him move $5,000,000 dollars into an American bank account.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into this idea of email marketing as the sole means of your new client acquisition.  First, what kind of audience are you looking to reach?

If you are looking to reach every household in a 30 mile radius around a new restaurant, or some other very broad generic audience – cool beans, email marketing may be a low-cost marketing option for you with a decent ROI.

But, then you are not really doing targeted direct marketing.  My guess is that most of us look at our professional audience in two ways:  The people who are most likely to be interested in our product or service and everyone else.  Just like saturation direct mail will work for a very narrow set of marketers, saturation email will work for a very narrow set of marketers.  Then there are the rest of us.

And the rest of us need to realize that relying solely on email marketing for new client acquisition is probably a very big mistake.  Okay, I never speak in absolutes, so I left a teeny-tiny bit of wiggle room for the inevitable, “But I have second cousin who only uses email and gets a 28% response every time.”  Sure.  And the 2012 Sox are a shoe-in for the World Series.

Let’s manage some expectations, shall we?  When you send out an email promotion to people who have probably never heard of you or your company, your offer has to compete for attention with all manner of emails like forwarded jokes, Nigerian royalty, discounted-today-only specials, newsletters from those smart companies who are on the ball, Kerschplakistani Agriculture Ministers, electronic bill notifications, and offers to increase or decrease the size of various part of one’s body … not to mention all the emails the person is actually hoping to receive from friends, family, and co-workers.

Nearly 300 billion emails are sent every day.  Yours is just another one in the mix, waiting to be deleted by an overwhelmed end user who doesn’t have the time to learn more about a company that they’ve never heard of before.  Spam has trained people to delete emails from companies they don’t recognize.

I know, I know – you still feel a gravitational pull toward email marketing.  And, believe it or not, I’m not saying don’t use it.  I’m saying use it wisely.  Use it in conjunction with another channel.  First, get your name in front of your intelligently targeted audience with a mail piece.

“But,” I hear you thinking, “isn’t direct mail dead?

No, for the savvy marketer, direct mail is very much still alive and kicking.  I’m not the only voice in the wilderness here either.  Brian Fetherstonhaugh, the Chairman, CEO, and all-around Big Cheese at OgilvyOne Worldwide reminded people just this week that direct mail still has four strengths (massive strengths!) - Endurance, Aquisition, Impact, and Sense.

Use those strengths to your advantage.  Get your targeted audience familiar with your brand with direct mail first. Send more than one piece.  And then – without even having to use a gimmicky subject line – your email will stand out when it’s received because they’ll recognize your company.  You have already established yourself as a company of importance by building up to email correspondence.

Of course, while we’re still thinking about managing expectations, we should discuss how your sensibly targeted emails are going to be more pricey than the generic reach-every-blessed-person emails – there’s no way around it.  Targeting costs money because it has real value.  So don’t be fooled by people who say email marketing is way more cost effective than direct mail – when it comes down to it, the two channels are closer in cost than you might think.

Still thinking of going email-only for acquisition?

“Consistently, research and in-market results prove that printed messages like direct mail last longer than digital ones.”

I have two words for you:  think again.

Let me explain.  No, there is too much. Let me sum up:  The 2011 Sawx failed to live up to expectations.  No foreign despot is ever going to send you an e-mail offering you millions if you’d just help him out.  Using only e-mail for your new client acquisition is a flawed strategy.

Posted in direct marketing, response rates | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Creativity Steals the Show

I got to check out the DMA show in Boston yesterday.  Tim has been to a bazillion of these events, but it was my first direct marketing trade show.  I had expected it to be crammed with only mailing list companies, but there was so much more!  I came home with a bag full of samples of direct mail ideas!

Two ideas stood out so clearly and are so wonderfully applicable to everyone involved with mailing, that I just have to share the inspiration.  (In case you’re wondering, I am not affiliated with either company in any way – I just really like their products.)

Shaped Mailers Why mail an ordinary postcard or letter?  People rush through their mail, giving only a moment’s thought before deciding whether or not to throw a marketing piece in the trash.  It’s hard to stand out from the crowd and not end up in the recycling bin.  But the mail samples at ShipShapes were so cute that I brought a bunch home with me for my kids to play with.

Mail.  For my kids to play with.  I’m not a mail dork, I promise.  Seriously, these pieces are that fun.  And talk about getting lasting attention – I wouldn’t have the heart to throw these pieces into the trash if they arrived in the mail.  I have admit, my favorite is the cutout of the Aflac duck.  I’m not sure who is going to enjoy playing with him more – the kids or I.

Handwritten Addresses I’m an old-fashioned gal.  Yes, I love my modern gadgets (I don’t know how I existed before I got an iPhone … even though I just bought it 2 weeks ago), but I miss the personal touch of “old fashioned” communication.  Everyone likes to see their own name … and even better if another person took the time to write it out by hand rather than used a computer program to spit it out of a printer.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way, because the guy at Think Ink Marketing gave me a brochure with some impressive response rate comparisons.  (They didn’t have samples … they were giving away brownies instead.  Those didn’t make it back to the kids.)

There were some other interesting ideas being presented at the show – mailers with seeds embedded in the paper that you can plant, business cards that fold out like maps, website avatars, QR codes, etc. – but I didn’t think they were as attention grabbing or as adaptable to nearly any direct mail marketing project as the top 2.

What got your attention at the DMA show?

Posted in direct mail, trade shows | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Art of the Schmooze: Bono vs. Dilbert

Bono: Rock star; excellent listener. We salespeople could learn a thing or two from the U2 frontman.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear:   Were I ever to have an audience with Bono I’m sure I would immediately turn into Wayne (or Garth) meeting Alice Cooper.

So, that said, this article caught my eye the other day, and, clearly, I think the author would not handle himself much better than I, but, as noted above, I can empathize.

Though this wasn’t one of his bullet points, I particularly like the idea he was attempting to work around in paragraph two.  Bono seemed genuinely interested in the conversation he was having with the guy’s younger brother:

I was a tad jealous as I listened to my brother recount to me the details of their meeting. Interestingly though, the thing that made the biggest impression on my brother was that Bono was the one who asked all the questions. To quote my brother, “He didn’t break eye contact and his demeanor showed that he was genuinely interested in learning about me.”

That got me to thinking about how we salespeople build relationships.  Sure, I can tell you all about how awesome we are as a company, and I can go even further and shamelessly plug our awesome offerings, and, of course, it’s all true.  We’re awesome.  But, as awesome as we are (and we are awesome) I recognize there are other awesome companies out there with other awesome sales people.  There’s no question in my mind the difference between good sales people and great sales people in an industry like ours that is built so heavily on personal relationships is those who master the art of the schmooze are the ones who build those stronger relationships.

When I say “schmooze” I am not talking about that insincere, Eddie-Haskell-esque “Oh, Mrs. Cleaver, that’s a very nice dress you’re wearing today” bit – I’m talking about being able to connect with customers and prospects on an individual level and really care.

The mistake some rookie salespeople make is they want to talk, and they want to make that connection, but instead of doing a lot of listening (see:  Rock Star, Bono) they do a lot of talking … about … themselves! Eek!  Customers don’t want to talk about salespeople … they want to talk about … themselves!

So how does a salesperson get a customer or prospect to talk about themselves?  Ask questions.  Better still, ask relevant questions.  Asking relevant questions requires the salesperson to really, really, really pay attention and really listen (just like that wicked awesome Bono of U2 did!*).

*Look, I told you I wouldn’t be able to control myself.

There’s a balancing act required, though.

While I was reading the above referenced blog post I couldn’t help thinking about a series of Dilbert strips that ran a few weeks ago.  It’s important to make a connection with your customers and prospects, but, dudes and dudettes, there is such a thing as taking it too far.

How do you make connections with your clients and prospects?

Posted in Sales Marketing 101, Salespeople | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Yeah, We Can Do That – A Segmentation Celebration

Guitar humor. Awesome Direct Marketing tips. How can one blog post hold it all? Read on and find out!

Okay!  A little bit of guitar player humor for you:

Q: How many guitar players does it take to screw in a light-bulb?
A: All of them.  One to screw in the light bulb and all the rest to say, “Yeah, I can do that.”

Good stuff, right?

Well, that punchline occurred to me when I read point number 4 in the EUS blog:

Rule 4.  It’s all about the list. Today, list selection is far more creative than it’s ever been. Just ask the credit card companies that are reaching out to retail partners that have databases to die for.

As the DM News story explains, credit card companies have found a new way to use their consumer databases – their retail partners segment potential shoppers based on specific shopping history.  Targeted lists!

Naturally, this got me to thinking about all the cool things we can do with our data when it comes to targeting and segmentation (because we all know targeting and segmentation matters).  Really.  It does.

Because we are firm believers that direct mail is still awesome and that it is still an integral part of the direct marketing mix when used by savvy marketers such as yourselves, I wanted to share a thought or three on how marketers who may not have the same resources at hand can offer similar punch to their marketing efforts.

If you’ve looked at other parts of our website, such as our datacard page, you’ll see that we offer over 20 million licensed professionals (with, of course, an emphasis on the medical and allied health professions).  Within those 20 million professions we have the ability to select by over 70 professions and almost 300 sub-specialties within those 70 professions.  That’s some good targeting, right?

Actually, it’s great.  But, looking back to the example of the big credit card companies creating alliances with other retail companies, we (WARNING:  SHAMELESS PLUG TO FOLLOW) offer marketers the opportunity to do similar work through our hundreds of demographic, lifestyle, and buyer based overlays.

  • Do you want to reach healthcare professionals who have made two or more high-end catalog purchases?  Great!  Because, yeah, we can do that.
  • Wait!  How about Nurses who have children and like to travel internationally?  You want that?  Fantastic!  Because, uh-hu, we can do that, too!
  • Oh!  This is good one!  Irish pharmacists who own second homes!   Right!  You got it!  We can do that, too.

Before I go and create some sort of truly ridiculous example the point is, small and medium sized marketers don’t have to get shut out of some of the benefits that come to big kids on the block, because, yes, (CONTINUATION OF SHAMELESS PLUG) we can help.

I should say, though, in the interest of full disclosure, I still can’t play the solo from Hendrix’s Hey Joe, (*sigh* I can’t do that) so, in the mean time, I will have to soothe my soul with the knowledge that while I may not be a guitar god I can do some pretty cool list stuff.  It’ll never get me on the cover of Rolling Stone, but, it’ll help a lot of marketers – and that’s the stuff that keeps us list lifers going.

What sort of segmentation or targeting makes you or your clients celebrate?

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Top 5 Tuesday: Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime To-Do’s

Sometimes I wonder what I'm 'a gonna do, 'cuz there ain't no cure for the summertime "to-do's"


I’ve been doing this list stuff for over two decades now and if I’ve learned one thing about the industry’s seasonality is after 20 years … I have no idea how the seasons will play out.  Sure, the first quarter is always (usually) our busiest quarter (except, of course, in those years when it’s not), and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is always (sometimes) really, really quiet, but, for the most part, after years of tracking count requests per week and orders per week and all that good stuff, I can tell you what happened last month, but, I’m not going too far out onto a limb to prognosticate (from the from Medieval Latin prognosticare:  to make a wild guess that may or may not have any chance of being correct … or something like that) next month.  And, sure enough, just as we were thinking things might quiet down a little bit as we rolled into the summer we found ourselves pedal-to-the-metal all through July and the first part of August (slowing down just enough for me to consider writing my first blog post in over six weeks).

The business is great, of course, but, this leads me to the first of this post’s little bits of wisdom:  Never speak in absolutes!

Meanwhile, all summer I have had “BLOG” written on my to-do list, but I could never get around to actual blogging because I was far too busy actually working.  Hey, it happens, right?  It’s all good.

But, I did have a grab-bag of things that have caught my eye so, here are five random things that may be of some interest to all you savvy marketers out there (and will allow me to check an item of my to-do list for this week):

1)      Regular readers may recall back in May when we discussed The Top Five Reasons Why Direct Mail is Still Awesome.  One of the points in that post was that direct mail offered a tangible message to prospects.  It’s nice to see we’re not alone!  Over at Eye/Comm’s Blog there’s a great post about using the five senses to generate an emotional response in your prospects (since most decisions are 80% emotional and 20% rational).

2)      The Washington Post ran an Op-Ed piece last month discussing the desperate need for postal reform.  The DMA agrees with Op-Ed in spirit, but, they do take issue with a couple specifics including the proposed sharp decrease in the discount for non-profit mailers.  The USPS is a mess and has been asking mailers to fund their excess capacity for years now and, surely, all parties are going to have to make some sacrifices, but, hasn’t the USPS seen sharp decreases in mail volume with each onerous rate increase?  What makes anyone think another increase (okay, it’s a decrease in a discount, but, that’s an effective increase to the non-profits) in rates will help increase mail volume?

3)      You’ll get a kick out of Big Hair & Plastic Grass if you’re a fan of 1970’s baseball.  (Alright, this has nothing to do with direct marketing, but, cut me some slack, it’s summer in the US of A and that means baseball, right?)

4)      Marketers need to be smart when it comes to e-mail marketing (I’ll save a full-fledged rant on this subject for later), but, I did want to share this helpful bit of marketing wisdom – the Top 10 Things to Test in Your E-mail Marketing Campaign.  Note the author says “test” which implies marketers need to make multiple blasts to see what works best.  (Just like direct mail, right?)

5)      The economy has given us nothing but a bumpy ride over the past few years and that brought back memories of the 1991 recession (which, in my neck of the woods had probably started a couple years earlier when the regional real estate bubble popped) when a lot of bottom-feeding, scumbag marketers came out of the woodwork who were clearly looking to do nothing more than scam people.  Some of them landed on the front pages of DM News and some even went to the Big House for their transgressions.   I say all this to bring note to this piece about the downside to short-term marketing.  If you’ve been around for more than 15 minutes you already know the long-term always pays a visit and it’s always good to be on the right side of the long-term.

Remember, school is starting soon (or has started already) – drive safe and enjoy the last few weeks of summer.  And, while you’re at it – has anything marketing-y caught your eye this summer?

Posted in direct mail, direct marketing, e-mail marketing, non-profit, Top Five Tuesday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

When Bad Trade Shows Happen to Good People

Would you protect a sandwich this tasty? Why, yes. Yes, you would. Why, then, won't the DMA protect the very professionals who are the heart of their organization?

First, I have a sad, sad story to relate.  This sad story happened back in the early ‘70s.  I was just a kid and my father owned this motorcycle shop.  (This is not the story of my first ride on a mini-bike at the age of six for the simple reason I’ve yet to figure out how I can weave the story into something even remotely related to direct marketing, but, give me time, something will occur to me.)  Anyway, back to the sad, sad story:  Dad was working late, as small business owners often find themselves, and he knew he was going to get home well after supper time (in this case it was even well after we kids had marched off to bed).  So, Dad figured he’d get a grinder* from a sandwich shop that was a couple doors down from the motorcycle shop and he’d take it home for supper.

*I’ll have to work into another post sometime my winter break job I had one year in college where I worked at a deli down the road from a big ski area in Vermont and by the end of the job I could tell where people lived not by their accents but by the term they used to order a sandwich.

Now, you have to understand my father just loved, loved, luuuuuuuvvvvved a good grinder, with the crusty bread all crunchy on the outside but nice and soft and chewy on the inside with the oversized cold cuts hanging out over the sides of the bread and the tomato and onions generously heaped on top of the meat and the sliced provolone just so with a touch of oil on the bread … oh, man … good stuff.  I mean, he didn’t love the sandwich more than he loved us kids, but, he maybe loved a good grinder almost as much as he loved us kids.  I get it.  So, anyway, he got home, opened up and unrolled the butcher paper just so and realized his hands were a little too grease-monkey to handle the sandwich so he went into the bathroom to clean up some.  When he got back out to the kitchen the grinder was gone.

He figured my mother, sitting out in the living room, was funnin’ with him.  Alas, she wasn’t.  The grinder was gone.  My father turned around and there was the dog, Jerry, sitting there with a piece of onion hanging from the side of his mouth.

Now, my dad was a good guy.  He messed up now and then, but, don’t we all?  The point here is, he was a good guy* and nothing he did that day made him deserve the horrible fate that befell him and his well-earned, highly anticipated dinner plans.  Bad (dog) things can happen to good (hungry) people.

*I offer as a proof of his basic goodness the fact the dog lived another 13 years after this unfortunate incident.

Anyway, I tell you all this to tell you I attended the DMA’s All For One Summit at the New York Hilton a couple weeks ago.  The All For One Summit is the show that used to be called Digital Marketing Days.  Digital Marketing Days was the show that used to be called DM Days.

DM Days had been around for a long, long time (as in “before I was shaving” long time – and I started shaving when I was 12).  It had been around so long and had grown so large that it outgrew the Hilton and the DMA moved it to the Jacob Javits Center.  The first year at the Javits, 2002, the attendees were packed tight by the entrance to the big hall waiting for 10:00am and when the clock struck ten a mass of direct marketing hungry professionals stormed into the exhibit hall.  I was manning a booth.  There were people lined up to speak to us.  It was pretty cool.

Over the course of the aughts (or, the aughties as some have said, or, as our pals in Great Britain have called them, the noughties) the show failed to provide that same stampede of humanity to the point where on the final day of the show the last year at the Javits in 2009 you could have stood at the end of an aisle in the exhibit hall and gone bowling for direct marketers and come up empty.

Many long-time attendees speculated on the reason – lots of folks I talked to disliked the location.  True enough – the west side of New York City over by the Javits didn’t offer a lot in the way of restaurants or hotels nearby which made schmoozing over lunch (a staple of trade shows) a difficult task.  The economy certainly didn’t help matters as the decade was something of a flop (for any of you who might possibly have forgotten) bookended by two different bursting bubbles.  It wasn’t good for trade show business.

I’ll offer one more reason:  the DMA began to de-emphasize the list community.  True, we are not the hip side of direct marketing.  Direct mail, the pundits tell us, is not cool anymore.  (I have told you differently, and as savvy direct marketers I am sure you understand direct mail is still awesome.)  To that misguided end, the DMA rebranded the show for 2010 and called it Digital Marketing Days in a seeming attempt to woo in the Googles of the world.  Of course, as exhibitors go, there is only one Google, and even if they rented a really big exhibit space (they didn’t) that still left all the other traditional exhibitors (read:  lots and lots of list companies) out in the cold with a lot of attendees not understanding there would still be list people there and that direct marketing still needs targeted lists.

The DMA may have recognized the error of their ways and rebranded this year’s show to the above-mentioned All For One Summit – which, I think, did nothing more than remind folks of a nugget-centered candy bar (now with more chocolate taste than before!).  The exhibit hall had some exhibitors – of which only about 7 or 8 were list companies – and it was a ghost town.  I spoke to a handful of exhibitors near the end of the last day and most were ready to throw themselves into traffic except, one, there was no (foot) traffic and, two, some of the exhibitors who were locals had to get their kids to Little League games later that night.

Meanwhile, though, the lounge at the Hilton was packed with, yes, you guessed it, lots of list people holding lots of meetings.  The DMA needs to understand, remember, learn, whatever, that the list industry is still a key component to direct marketing.  We help put marketer’s messages into prospect’s hands and at trade shows, we put the feet on the exhibit hall floors.  The DMA needs to re-emphasize mailing list professionals.

My father showed the Jerry the dog maybe more patience than the mutt had earned that night back in 1972.  The list community may be closer to the end of its patience with the DMA.

Do you have any good ideas that will help reinvigorate this once thriving show?

Posted in bad dogs, direct mail, direct marketing, grinders, mailing lists, trade shows | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Before You Mail, Know What You Need!

For an hour every week these people subjected us to endless whining about their needs. When it comes to response rates you have to spend EVERY HOUR caring about YOUR needs.

A couple months back I let you all in on a secret – not everyone wants to buy your stuff.  I know, I know, your stuff is awesome!  (I would expect no less from savvy marketers who read the Completely Interesting Direct Marketing Blog.)  But, savvy marketers that we are, we know we should never expect 100% response to any offer.  Let’s face it – we shouldn’t even expect 10% response to most any offer.

So, that begs the question:  What should we expect?

This question harkens me back to the early ‘90s when Jay Leno was still an edgy, hip comedian.  I was watching some bit where he was going on about the critically acclaimed, but hardly watched television show Thirtysomething:

”The husband is saying, ‘What about my needs?’ and the wife is saying, ‘What about my needs?’ and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Hey!  What about my needs?  I’m looking for a little entertainment here!”

So, the question begs a question:  What should you expect?  Well, what are your needs?

Yes, in general, we direct mail folks tell clients to expect somewhere between a 1% and 2% response on a prospect list.  Sure, based on a DMA study from a few years back the industry standard is 2.61%, but I still like to tell clients to make their plans based on 1 or 2 percent, just to be on the safe side.

But, really, the response rate only tells you part of the story.

A client once sent out a mailing advertising various cooking sauce mixes.  The offer pulled over 6%.  Six percent!  That is an outstanding response rate … yet the campaign was an abysmal failure.  Why?  The average orders for the sauce mixes simply weren’t big enough.  So even though a lot of folks responded and ordered, they didn’t order enough (or the client wasn’t charging enough … or something … either way, the revenue did not cover the cost of mailing).

Our friends over at Melissa Data offer a great example of someone having a successful campaign on a .04% response (that’s right – four tenths of one percent!):

At his old company, his average mailing was 40,000 pieces with a response rate of 5/10 of one percent at a cost per mailer of $.59 yielding 200 contracts worth $270 each or $54,000 in revenue. With a mailing cost of $23,600, the gross margin on the mailing was $30,400. Since he was selling a service, there were no product costs. Bottom line was that each mailer sent generated 76 cents in gross margin.

In his new position, he was mailing far more mailers - 80,000 per campaign at a lower per piece cost of $.52 each. With a response rate of 4/10 of one percent yielded 320 deals worth $325 each or $100,400. With a mailing cost of $41,600, the gross margin on the mailing was $62,400. Since he was still selling a service, then there were no product costs. Bottom line was that each mailer at the new company generated 78 cents in gross margin – two cents higher than at his last job.

Clearly, high response doesn’t always equate success and low response doesn’t always equate failure.  Something inside drives us to always want a higher response, but what is paramount to figure out before you mail anything is:  What response do you need to generate success for your specific campaign?

To get the answer, you need to figure out the costs of the mailing (don’t forget to add printing costs, postage, graphic designer, and – of course – the mailing list) as well as the cost of the product you’re selling.  A simple direct mail ROI calculator can help you get a handle on your response needs.

Have you ever seen a seemingly low response rate turn into a successful campaign?  Have you ever seen a show nearly as annoying as Thirtysomething?

Posted in direct mail, response rates, ROI | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments